If you do business with people from cultural groups different than your own, you would be wise to invest some time understanding their cultures as well as their needs in terms of your products and services. You may not necessarily be doing business with people in another country, but with those from other countries who have relocated near your place of business. If you want their business, you have to understand their needs on many levels.

Some words and phrases you often use in conversation--or even on your website--just don't translate into the same meaning that you may wish to impart, confusing your customers who speak English as a second language. Or worse, the translation may unintentionally be offensive when made.

Here are a few things you need to be aware of when dealing with clients from different cultures than your own.

  • Be patient when building trust and establishing relationships. People from countries other than the United States generally need more time to build trust. It's important to observe a greater degree of formality when becoming acquainted than you would use with a client who was born and raised locally.
  • Speak more slowly than you normally do , but don't raise your voice because you think the other person can't understand you. Volume doesn't usually increase comprehension. Also, don't speak down to them as if they're children.
  • Avoid slang, buzzwords, idioms, jargon and lingo. These can all be easily misunderstood by those who's primary language isn't your own. Just use simple language until you can get an idea of what level of your language they understand.
  • Prepare your interpreter. If you're using an interpreter, make sure the interpreter meets with the people for whom they're interpreting before you actually begin to sell them your product or service. This will allow the interpreter to learn the language patterns, special terminology and numbers used by the people they're translating for. If your business sells to other businesses, you need to be certain you're both using the same product identifiers or other codes specific to that company or industry to ensure that you both understand the needs and terms of any transaction.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal interaction cues. The word "yes" or an affirmative nod often means "Yes, I hear you" in Asian cultures, not "Yes, I agree." If you see a nod and move on to closing the sale, you may frighten them off with what appears to them as over-zealousness.

Culture is as much an influence on people as their personal experiences, so knowing about your clients' customs and traditions only makes sense. That way, neither you nor your client will be made to feel uncomfortable and selling can be done.

If you need or want to find out about another culture, some wonderful resources are available to steer you in the right direction and tell you everything you need to know. Spend some time browsing through your local library or bookstore to see what's out there. Or go online and look under the topics of "protocol," "diversity" or "cultural awareness."

Depending on your product and how much business you might be doing with clients from cultures unfamiliar to you, a good source is: www.usaprotocol.com . This is where you'll find the 25th Anniversary Edition handbook for U.S. diplomats on proper etiquette and protocol for engagements with people from diverse cultures around the world.

Remember: Knowledge is power.